Bump in Tax Credit May Help Development in West Virginia

The former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel headquarters, the Marsh Stogies building, the Columbia Gas building and many more across the city that are at least 50 years old are now more attractive redevelopment projects than they were just last week.

That is because on Monday, the West Virginia Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit jumped from 10 percent to 25 percent. When coupled with the 20 percent federal credit — which ultimately survived after some feared it would be eliminated in Republican tax bill — a developer can now deduct 45 percent of his or her expenses when renovating a historic building.

“For every $100,000 you spend, you can get $45,000 back in tax credits. It is huge,” said Jennifer Brennan, tax credit coordinator for the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office, while speaking during a Thursday informational meeting in Wheeling.

Mayor Glenn Elliott and Vice Mayor Chad Thalman have said a developer is working on plans for about 100 apartments at the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building. The possible apartment complex could include construction of a new parking garage on the west side of Market Street, although this is still in the preliminary stages.

The distinguishable Market Street building opened in 1905 as home to the Schmulbach Brewing Co. It became the headquarters to the company ultimately known as Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel in the 1940s.

Cost estimates to repurpose the property’s 144,000-square-foot interior for residential space reach the $18 million to $20 million range.

“This, quite simply, makes the rehabilitation and redevelopment of our historic buildings more viable and economically feasible,” Elliott said Thursday. “I feel this will unleash investments that are long overdue.”

Another vacant, multi-story downtown building, the former Columbia Gas headquarters at the corner of 16th and Chapline streets, opened in the early 1960s and has been empty since spring 2015 when a law office that had occupied the first floor left. Elliott said although this building would not have qualified for the program in the past because it was not old enough, it could potentially be added to the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for the credits.

“Really, almost every building in the downtown should qualify,” Elliott added.

In 2017, city leaders successfully lobbied the West Virginia Legislature to expand the state credit from 10 percent to 25 percent. Elliott said officials plan to lobby again regarding the $30 million annual cap the Legislature placed on the historic tax credit program.

“If the amount applied for exceeds $30 million, they should find a way to remove the cap,” Elliott said. “This is something that grows jobs and grows the economy in our state.”

The tax credit “is really a small business generator,” said Wheeling Councilwoman Wendy Scatterday, who is also an architect. “It really drives economic development in cities that have a lot of historic buildings.”